Final USS Arizona reunion in Tucson - Tucson News Now

Final USS Arizona reunion in Tucson

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

As Pearl Harbor Day approaches this will be the final year for a reunion in Tucson of the survivors of the USS Arizona.

1,177 officers and crewmen on the ship died in the attack on December 7, 1941.

There were 334 survivors.

Time and age have been thinning their number.

10 are still with us.

Two felt well enough to make the trip to for the final reunion in Tucson.

One is 91-year-old Don Stratton. The other is Lauren Bruner, now 93.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked 72 years ago the 19-year-old Stratton, Bruner and four others were the only men in the forward part of the Arizona to survive.

They did it by crossing from the Arizona to another ship, the USS Vestal, on a rope, hand over hand.

The rope was suspended over the harbor that was a mass of flames because of the burning oil.

Stratton estimates it was a 75-foot-long line, suspended 45 feet above the water.

"Between the starboard side and the port side (of the Arizona) there was probably 50 men that manned those stations and there was only six of us that lived, that crossed that line. Now there's only two of us," Stratton says.

They were badly wounded and burned.

Stratton suffered burns over 65% of his body, but he remembers seeing everything.

"I seen all the torpedoes that hit the West Virginia. I seen most of them that hit the Oklahoma. I thought we were in line for two them, but evidently (the torpedoes) went between the Vestal and us in the mud bank," Stratton says.

Stratton remembers the names of those who crossed on that rope, and even the order in which they crossed, in a seemingly superhuman struggle to save their lives.

He says he doesn't like to talk about his experiences that December day, but he wants all of us to never forget.

"I kind of want to keep it in front of the people's mind and young people. And so that it doesn't happen again. It was a terrible day."

Stratton was not expected to survive.

He spent a very long time recovering.

He says that when it seemed the left side of his body was not going to improve, he was medically discharged in 1942.

However, Stratton wanted to go back to sea, so he joined the Navy for a second time.

He saw action in the South Pacific, including both invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa.

There will be a USS Arizona reunion next year in Hawaii.

That will be the final one.

Among the events commemorating the 72nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor, will be one open to the public at the University of Arizona.

This is from the UA news release:

Dec. 8

The USS Arizona Reunion Association has coordinated the USS Arizona Ceremony in partnership with the UA's Naval ROTC unit. It is slated to be the association's final event in Tucson involving Pearl Harbor bombing survivors, and it is free and open to the public.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend the ceremony, which will be held 9:30-11 a.m. on the UA Mall just south of the Administration Building, 1401 E. University Blvd. 

UA President Ann Weaver Hart and U.S. Rep. Ron Barber are scheduled to speak during the event.

The event also will include a reading of poetry, a presentation by the Army Band from Fort Huachuca and a bell ringing in honor of the eight Arizona residents entombed on the USS Arizona.

Two military veterans, Lauren Bruner and Donald Stratton, who survived the bombing of the battleship USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor will be in attendance. Also, the UA's Naval ROTC will be in full attendance along with representatives from the UA's Army and Air Force ROTC programs.

Parking is available at the Second Street Garage, 1340 E. Second St.

Copyright 2013 Tucson News Now All rights reserved.

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